[MIKOIAN, Anastas and I. K. SIVOLAP, Editors]. Kniga o vkusnoi i zdorovoi pishche [Book of delicious and healthy food]. Moscow, Pishchepromizdat, 1952.
4to. Original publisher's green embossed cloth, lettered in gilt, spine additionally ornamented in white; colour-photographic endpapers; pp. 399, 24 leaves of colour plates (2 illustrations double-page size, printed on both sides), several sectional titles printed with photographic background, numerous black and white illustrations in the text; binding minimally rubbed, clean and fresh inside.
Early edition of an all-encompassing compendium of Soviet foodstuffs, presentation of dishes, recipes and the organisation and equipment of a kitchen, lavishly produced, and profusely illustrated. Involved in the design of this work was the eminent Soviet photographer Dimitri Baltermants (1912-1990), renowned for his iconic photos of the Second World War. The editor and spiritus rector of the entreprise was Anastas Ivanovich Mikoian, born in Armenia in 1895, a high-powered functionary of the Bolshevik government, who in the 1920s and -30s had studied American industrialized food production and introduced processed Hamburgers and machine-made icecream to the USSR. The sendvichi, kornfleks, ketchup and other 'rootless cosmopolitan' fare where however expurgated from the 1952 edition owards. The 1953 edition had to be recalled and was almost completely destroyed, because it contained a preface by Beria, who had been shot on Stalin's orders earlier that year. The first edition, as most others up to 1952, when the book appeared first in the present form, had been published in 1939, which was followed by small printruns and abridged versions during the war and in the second half of the 1940s. The printrun of the 12th edition in 1991 had dropped to 22 thousand copies, the gastronomic swan song of the Soviet Union.
The book opens with a quotation from Stalin, on the nature of the Revolution, followed by the title on coloured paper, one leaf of preface, and an 11-page introduction headed On towards Abundance! [K izobiliiu!] set in photographic frames depicting harvest, an array of bakery products, cooked meats, fish, a well-stacked food shop, poultry, shelves stacked with cheeses, canned and bottled milk, fruit and vegetables piled up to pyramids. Most of the colour-plates are advertisements for Soviet food brands, several of which are in style with commercial photography of the 1950s, heavily re-touched, and with their colours enhanced. Despite all the propagandistic splendour, this work contains hundreds of useful recipes. 'According to Katya Rogatchevskaia, lead east European curator (Russian) for London's British Library, until its publication, the only other cookbook was A Gift for Young Housewives, which came out in 1861. “The Soviet cookbook was very well received because for a long time there was no cookery book in Russian,” she says. “It became a luxury item that was kept not in the kitchen but in the living room where people could sit down and look through it. Even though books were generally not expensive, shortages meant this one became scarce, making it more like a ‘coffee table’ book.” While the book contains much simple fare, recipes with ingredients such as suckling pig, sturgeon and salmon caviar were all part of an illusion that befitted Joseph Stalin’s ideological trajectory well. In contrast to the Bolsheviks’ ascetic approach to food in the Twenties, writes Von Bremzen, under Stalin food became an integral part of his myth of prosperity' (Maryam Omidi in The Calvert Journal, online). - The book has recently been 'discovered' in the West: there where articles in the Guardian (Anya von Bremzen, The great Stalinist bake off), the FT, the book featured in the British Library's recent exhibition Propaganda: Power and Persuasion and E. Geist placed an article on Anastas Mikoian in the Russian Review in April 2012. - Despite a printrun of half a million of this edition, this formerly ubiquitous Soviet book has become astonishingly rare, especially in good condition.
Cagle, who has a chapter on Russia, lists only one Russian gastronomic work (number 1207) – in French.